You could say that the house at Little Acre upon first impressions is a charming building with a chalet design sat within an enchanting wraparound plot…..that is upon first impressions.
The reality is that the house is a 1960s extended chalet bungalow with a somewhat unattractive uPVC front abutted by a flat roofed double garage. This is not however immediately obvious, mainly due to the presence of a wonderfully established large wisteria vine that drapes itself with intent across the front part of the house. It lures the eye into its lushness and gives the outward appearance of a ‘picture postcard’ country cottage. Upon our first viewing of the property this wisteria had clearly got the instructions from the estate agent to ‘sell sell sell’. Its purple flowers adorning every branch, its vine enticing you to come in through the garden gate that it framed so elegantly and its green leaves hiding all manner of sins possessed by the building behind it. Its job was done….I was in love and no matter how much logic should have been used, I wanted to own the house that had that vine!
Having now been here 10 months, seen the flowers come and go and as the weather cooled watched the leaves slowly drop to the ground, what unfolded was not the stuff of dreams but more akin to that of nightmares.
The growth of the vine had got out of control, working its way in and between the facias and soffits, strangling phone lines and taking residence in gutters and under tiles. That however wasn’t the worst of it.
The vine had been mismanaged for years, the way it had been attached to house was heartbreaking, using tight cables and thick rope to pull it into the brickwork, wrapped around the vine multiple times. This may have been an effective mechanism at the time but it was never the right one and as the vine grew the cables cut into the stem and eventually became part of the plant itself.
This Wisteria needed some attention. We waited until the dormant winter season which was not only better for the vine but much easier for us to manage due to a lack of foliage. The first stage was to do some research as to how to approach this beast of a plant. For this I turned to the professionals. After reading through the guidance on the RHS site I looked elsewhere for some real life accounts of dealing with its management. Not for the first time the always wonderful Lou Nicholls came to my aid. Her blog ‘Louise Nicholls – Adventures in Horticulture’ had an article on Wisteria with a detailed run through of dealing with problem vines along with pruning guidance and tips on training. (If you’ve not come across Lou before I cannot recommend her blog highly enough, both its current page and its previous archives, you will not regret spending some time working your way through the posts)
And so began the pruning, starting at one end we slowly cut the long vines back down to the recommended 2 -3 buds. Teasing them out of the structure of the house, easing up the tiles to remove them from potentially invading the loft space. As we worked along its length the transformation was remarkable, at one point we removed over 10 foot of vine that must have been running almost the length of the interior of the soffit . The Wisteria had had a well overdue haircut and it was starting to resemble that of an architecturally magnificent, structurally sound, established vine. The central stems were revealed and the wonderful way that the vine wrapped up and around itself was a sight to behold. The anticipation of what is to come when the plant hopefully springs back into life is almost too much to bear.
That however was far from that, there are far too many main stems, with new growth that for years had just been left to intertwine, establish and thicken, many terminating mid way along the full length. These will need to removed eventually to ease the pressure on the guttering, but for this year the vine has had enough of a beating. We were keen to ensure that we take our time with this, don’t send the vine into too much shock……and so the remainder of the task rests itself firmly on the ‘to do’ list for next winter.
Next we needed to address the ties. Very slowly and very carefully we started to untangle the cables and ropes from the vine. Many of the tethers had become unattached from the wall and the vine had dropped about 2 feet from its intended position. The difficulty we face is that the front of the house, with a bay window and a chimney breast, undulates back and forth, the vine has to span gaps, work around corners and up along brickwork.
After considering various options, there were limited choices on how to approach reattaching the vine without causing it much more trauma. We opted for steel vine eyes into the brickwork using 3 ply twine tied directly to them to gently pull the vine back into the wall. The intention is each year to replace the twine, which if left in place would eventually rot away and this way it never gets the chance to damage the well established vine. This will also force us to reassess things year on year ensuring we are doing the best for the plant.
So for now all we can do is hope that the first stage of taming this old beast has worked, that the vine recovers (and hopefully benefits) from what I can imagine was its first proper pruning and that over the many years that follow we can breathe new life into this country classic.